Performing Arts

‘I Got Rhythm’ is a swell albeit reserved revival of 1930s songs at Quality Hill

Stefanie Stevens (from left), Taylor Avazpour and Amy Hurrelbrink celebrate classic Hollywood musical numbers in “I Got Rhythm.”
Stefanie Stevens (from left), Taylor Avazpour and Amy Hurrelbrink celebrate classic Hollywood musical numbers in “I Got Rhythm.” Quality Hill Playhouse

“I Got Rhythm,” an original production at Quality Hill Playhouse, is a quaint revue of dance-oriented songs associated with the musicals of the 1930s. The beat rarely falters during the unflaggingly charming if somewhat dainty two-act show, but the tone of the production is curiously timid.

J. Kent Barnhart, pianist, master of ceremonies and musical director, oversees an appealing trio of enthusiastic actors. Taylor Avazpour, Amy Hurrelbrink and Stefanie Stevens won’t make anyone forget Fred Astaire or Ginger Rogers, but their singing and tap dancing is delightful. Bassist Brian Wilson and drummer Kyle Brown help bring the vintage selections to life.

Songs from “42nd Street,” the 1933 film that Barnhart characterized as “the quintessential tap show,” encapsulate the most entrancing and frustrating aspects of the revue.

Hurrelbrink sits atop the piano as she croons “You’re Getting to Be a Habit With Me.” The cozy theater can’t possibly accommodate Busby Berkeley’s famously elaborate choreography in “42nd Street,” but the subtle gestures and understated expressions employed by Hurrelbrink and her colleagues are effective.

It’s a shame that the treatment of the risqué Harry Warren and Al Dubin compositions are unduly inhibited. Rather than sounding like a song of seduction, the flirtatious “Young and Healthy” resembles an ode to platonic love. Aside from a slight shimmy Stevens executes during “Shuffle Off to Buffalo,” a reading of the suggestive ode to romantic bliss on a honeymoon seems more like a vow of celibacy.

During a couple of his interesting asides, Barnhart disapprovingly cites concessions made by filmmakers to alter the lyrics of a composition and the title of a movie to avoid scandalizing audiences. Yet Barnhart doesn’t take advantage of the tenor of the times. The sensual “About a Quarter to Nine” is among the additional selections that are given unnecessarily straight-laced interpretations.

Even so, many in the audience will consider the songs as mere vehicles for dancing. Barnhart recalls that after taking six tap dance lessons, an instructor politely discouraged the endeavor by telling him that “you really play the piano well.”

Avazpour, Hurrelbrink and Stevens clearly fared better in their training. Their individual and syncopated dancing is engaging. As they strenuously hoofed during the opening selection “Rhythm Is Our Business,” the trio correctly declares that “business sure is swell.”

On stage

“I Got Rhythm” continues through Feb. 19 at Quality Hill Playhouse. See qualityhillplayhouse.com or call 816-421-1700.

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